Chora Church (Kariye Museum)
The Chora Church is a few miles away from the main historical sights of Istanbul. Still, large crowds gather here daily, drawn by its enchanting beauty and beautiful mosaics and frescoes.
The ancient Byzantine church has survived earthquakes and the removal of Christian symbols during its Orthodox and Islamic periods. The first church on this spot was built in the fourth century. Chora means “country.” Emperor Constantine had ordered the building of the church to be west of the city and the church was given the name "The Church of the Holy Savior Outside the Walls." Emperor Theodosius II expanded the city walls in 413, properly including the church in Constantinople. The current church dates from the 11th century, built by the mother-in-law of emperor Alexius I Comnenus. It has seen many additions and most of the interiors, including the mosaics and the murals, date back to the early 14th century. After the Ottoman conquest, the church became a mosque. Finally, in the mid-20th century it became the Kariye Museum you can visit today.
Enter the ancient church and stare up at mosaics with biblical themes and stories. Highlights include the dedication to Jesus and Mary as well as the offertory pieces like the mosaic of the church’s fresco artist, Theodore Metochites.
Outside, walk the massive Theodosian city walls and see if you can detect the marks of cannon balls and Greek and Ottoman scripts engraved in the stones. Watch your step, because the walls are steep and not always smooth, but the view from the top is rewarding.
The Chora Church is located in the Edirnekapý district to the west of the city center. The church is open daily, except Wednesday, and there is a small fee to enter. Taking a taxi is the safest and easiest way to to get the church, but it is also the most expensive. There is a bus stop nearby, which saves money but may take some time. This part of the city is generally less safe than others, so watch your belongings.